Israel on collision course with EU on settlement project

After the Israeli parliament this week adopted a controversial law legitimizing retroactively illegal construction in the occupied territories EU issued an unusually sharp condemnation urging the Israeli government to refrain from implementing the law.

It started last Monday (6 February) when Knesset adopted the so-called regularization law with 60 votes against 52, with Benny Begin, the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, as the only MEP of the ruling government coalition to vote against it. Israeli opposition and media have condemned the law as a “land grab” law.

Even the government’s state attorney has said that he would not be able to defend the law in court. The law would allow the government to expropriate private Palestinian land on which Israeli outposts were illegally built in the past. The Palestinian owners would receive compensation and the right to claim the land until there is a solution of the status of the territories.

The law is widely seen as concession to the Israeli settlement lobby, represented by Naftali Bennett’s “Jewish Home Party”, and as compensation for the outdrawn evacuation by force of the illegal outpost Amona on the West Bank following a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court.

The saga of Amona, with its 40 families rejecting a voluntary evacuation and a generous deal, occupied the government for months.

After the election of Donald Trump as American president, Bennett and other politicians thought that the US would not object to continued Israeli settlement building in the occupied territories and that the idea of a two-state solution was dead. The unpredictable new president may surprise them.

Those in the Israeli parliament who voted for the law have apparently stopped distinguishing between Israel proper and the territories occupied in the six days war in 1967.

The lawmakers belonging to the government coalition feel that they have the political right to adopt any new laws, despite their slim majority in the parliament, and object to the Supreme Court’s review of the legality of the legislation and its consistence with fundamental rights and international law.

EU’s reaction

The adoption of the “regularization law” took place on the same day as the meeting of EU’s foreign ministers in Brussels. According to reporting in Israel’s leading opposition newspaper Haaretz some Member States voiced their opposition to holding a planned EU-Israeli Association Council meeting at this current time.

The meeting which was planned for February 28, after being delayed for a number of years, will now be postponed again. Haaretz writes that the meeting was meant to mark the tightened cooperation between Israel and the EU and to set out a work plan and priorities for improving relations between the two sides.

When asked at a press conference on Monday evening about the Association Council meeting, EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was vague about the timing of the meeting and did not disclose that it had been postponed:

“When it comes to the Association Council, we decided today to start preparing the Association Council so the exact content and scope of this will be discussed now and decided at 28 by unanimity,” she said.

It would take her another day (7 February) to issue a statement condemning the “regularization law. “This law crosses a new and dangerous threshold by legalising under Israeli law the seizure of Palestinian property rights and effectively authorising the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land in occupied territory.”

The statement continues urging Israel “to avoid measures that further raise tensions and endanger the prospects for a peaceful solution to the conflict, so as to reaffirm unequivocally through actions and policy its continued commitment to a two-state solution in order to rebuild mutual trust and create conditions for direct and meaningful negotiations.

In an attempt to counter the criticism abroad and explain the “regularization law”, the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs has issued a number of “talking points” for its embassies. The document which was leaked by Haaretz states that the law is intended to address the problem of Israeli houses that were built “inadvertently on land that is not state land”.

The truth is rather that they were built by settlers who took the law in their own hands with or without the support of government bodies. They hardly acted in good faith.

Judging by the last talking point, the Israeli government seems not totally convinced that the new law will be implemented. The document ends with stating that “the law can be reviewed by the High Court of Justice, if challenged”, which it surely will be.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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